In the U.S., it is no longer strange for people to hear news of Americans being gunned down, individually or in groups, on account of hundreds of different motives. The debates and disagreements ravage the value of the Constitution’s Second Amendment, a “Holy Bible” that allows individual Americans to keep and bear arms for the purpose of “security of a ‘free’ State.” It has been an ongoing spark in America that divides community and ultimately brings us to a standstill on the issue, while more and more people are dying at the shot of a bullet.
But on Feb. 10, that bullet crossed discussions and debates on an entirely different path. On that day, three Muslim students – Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha – were found dead from multiple gunshot wounds at their home in Chapel Hill, N.C. Deah, 23, was a University of North Carolina dental student; his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, was preparing to start at the dentistry school in the fall. Her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, was a sophomore at nearby North Carolina State University, where the couple were both alumni.
Police quickly identified a single suspect: the victim’s neighbor, 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks. Hicks, who was training to become a paralegal at Durham Technical Community College at the time of the shooting, was known as an exemplary student. But outside of the college, he had a notorious reputation with fellow neighbors. Many reported that he would argue about the designated parking space in the condominium area, at times while holding a gun. According to the Chapel Hill Police Department, the preliminary investigation indicated that the crime was motivated by an ongoing dispute over parking spaces. Hicks’ wife, who mentioned Hicks’ atheism and his support of same-sex marriage, abortion rights and racial equality, also supports this statement.
And yet disagreements still emerge from the Barakat-Abu Salha family, the Muslim community and other civil rights groups. Over 150 of these groups have gone on to sign a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking for a federal hate crime investigation, claiming there is enough circumstantial evidence to warrant one. Leaders of various Muslim communities have also warned against rising Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiments in the U.S., and criticize the U.S. media for biased views that claim the crime was not based in religious hatred.
The majority of critics have failed to take the religious criticism issues into account. However, based on preliminary evidence, it is a speculation worthy of debate. Why has American media failed to allocate more extensive and in-depth coverage to the shootings in comparison to the outrage and intensive reports of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris last month? In our own St. Olaf community, there has also been very little, if any, mention of or discussion surrounding the Chapel Hill incidents and how the American majority perceives this incident.
Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the death of Osama bin Laden and the ISIS insurgency in Iraq, Syria and Turkey, the Muslim community in the United States has experienced discrimination and hatred by “fellow Americans” who exercise patriotic, religious and sometimes psychopathic actions against those of the Muslim faith. Even though attitudes toward the Muslim community have improved somewhat when compared to post-9/11 Islamophobia, there are still invisible prejudices in many communities that bar Americans from understanding the Muslim perspective.
It is time, however, for these walls to be torn down in America. As a place continually championed as the bastion of the free world and free speech, the incident at Chapel Hill provids no indication that America is that sort of place at all. Apart from preventing this kind of racialized violence, we must be able to discuss our country’s Islamophobia. Many Americans have worked to encourage more freedom in countries beyond their borders. Yet, if all the people who lived within the “land of the free” themselves cannot enjoy this freedom, what are those talks and acts of freedom if not mere hypocrisies?
Sam Pattinasarane ’18 email@example.com is from Jakarta, Indonesia. He majors in political science and Asian studies.